As Union Minister U Soe Thane stated, “Myanmar’s Moment is Now.” Yet, everything cannot be accomplished simultaneously. What are you prioritizing as immediate concerns?
Most FDI in Myanmar has been in the resource based sectors. More than 35% of all FDI is in oil and gas, and over 14% in hydropower and about 7% in mining. There is considerably less in tourism, or even agriculture where FDI is less than 1%. For this reason we are currently encouraging diversification into other sectors. Now we are focusing on raising proportional investment in manufacturing because the government policy is focused on the biggest win for the Myanmar people. We are also looking at tourism and related services. We urgently need to create jobs for Myanmar citizens and only the manufacturing sector can do that quickly. For that reason we are focusing on getting more FDI into labor-intensive sectors.
If people ask me “which sector is most promising?” I would say services, particularly hotels and tourism. There is a need for greater numbers of hotel rooms and a more varied offering, both of which present an excellent opportunity for investors looking to come in this year. Agriculture, too, is extremely promising. As I explained, FDI in agriculture is currently less than 1%. Yet, over 70% of our people reside in rural areas and work in agriculture. So if we want to encourage poverty alleviation then we need to bring development to the agricultural sector.
In terms of the Foreign Direct Investment Law, some have said that it gives the MIC considerable authority and decision-making on a case-by-case basis.
The reason why the law delegates the power to the MIC is due to experiences in the past with the previous foreign direct investment law from 1988. In the past the MIC was also a decision-making body, but there was more controversy because there were multiple committees involved in approving projects. So when we were tasked with revising the law we had to consider how to make the process more transparent. When we deliberated we came to the agreement that making the MIC the ultimate decider for projects would allow for greater coherence in policy and transparency in decision-making.
Please tell us how the telecommunications tender process worked. It was a very open and transparent process, and probably the most scrutinized one to date. Was it a good experience?
This was indeed our first ever experience selecting the best companies for this crucial sector When we decided to open our doors we had to consider the most efficient operator in the sector while insisting on a completely transparent process for selection. For this reason we assigned a third party decision-maker. The government was not involved directly in the decision. We felt like it was a good experience and an excellent model for future projects.
In a presentation that you prepared last year, you indicated the importance of the special economic zones for international investors. Does this continue to hold true?
Yes that is very true. For foreign investors there are actually two foreign direct investment laws, one which we were just discussing, and the other, which applies to special economic zones. Special economic zones were an experiment for our government because we realized that there were certain areas – like Dawei – that were strategically located in economic corridors and therefore more attractive to possible investors. The establishment of Dawei in this strategic spot can also help develop the region around it, which is traditionally a lesser-developed area in Myanmar. We also decided to develop other areas with high potential for establishment of special economic zones.
A recent ADB study is bullish on Myanmar but also cautious about the reforms needed to the financial sector. Can you tell us about progress being made here?
This is the most important sector for Myanmar’s economic development. To date it is very underdeveloped. Fortunately the World Bank and the IMF are providing technical assistance, along with the ADB, in order to make rapid change to this sector. The Minister of Finance is already developing the majority of reforms, including the independence of the Central Bank.
In your 2012 presentation, you said that Myanmar was a plane on the runway. Where is it now? Is it taking off? Is it in the air?
It is now at the end of the runway, the engines are running high, but we still need more fuel to take off on the long haul flight.